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Heather and I went to The Big Island for one reason.

Sure, the chance to see lava erupting from an active volcano was pretty nice. And the fact that we had a free place to stay, courtesy of a long time family friend didn’t hurt either. Black sand beaches, laid back towns and 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones were all bonuses. But really, we came to the Big Island for one reason: To dive with manta rays.

As we pulled up to Kona Diving Company, I was buzzing with nerves and anticipates. Would the manta rays show up at their world-famous nightly feeding spot? Would I panic, as is my tendency when night diving? Would I weep when I read my credit card statement and realized this was the most I had ever in my life paid to scuba dive?

Kona Diving CompanyPhotos by Heather Holt

It’s true — this is no bargain expedition. At $166 per person (including all gear rental, taxes, and fees), we had made quite the investment in this evening. And not just monetarily, either — we were staying clear on the other side of the island, so we spent the entire day driving from Hilo to Kona. We’d spend even more quality time with our rental jeep that night when we slept in it — why yes, we were in fact too broke to pay for a hostel after dropping such big bucks on diving.

Little did we know that this was a two-for-the-price-of-one situation. We signed up to see Pacific manta rays, but en route to the dive site we were treated to the most unbelievable dolphin show I’ve ever seen. It started with a tiny baby, about the size of a football, jumping and playing in the distance.

Dolphins on Big Island, Hawaii

As the entire boat of fifteen divers and snorkelers rushed to the sides to try to catch a glimpse, an entire pod appeared around us in every direction. Cameras clicked furiously as we all assumed they would pass us by as quickly as they appeared. But they stayed with us for almost fifteen minutes — flinging themselves into the air, playing in the wake, speaking to each other in their melodic clicking language. It was one of the most amazing displays of wildlife I’ve ever seen — better than anything Sea World has ever put on, I’m sure of it.

Dolphins on Big Island, Hawaii

While I shot video clips, Heather took photos that I love so much they kind of make me want to cry. Don’t you wish you could always travel with a professional photographer?

Dolphins on Big Island, HawaiiPhoto by Heather Holt

Dolphins on Big Island, HawaiiPhoto on left by Heather Holt

Dolphins on Big Island, HawaiiPhoto by Heather Holt

Dolphins on Big Island, HawaiiPhoto by Heather Holt

Dolphins on Big Island, HawaiiPhotos by Heather Holt

The dive instructors on the boat, Jordan and David, told us it was the best dolphin encounter they had ever had! Our luck was changing. We pulled up to the dive site in high spirits, with perma-smiles on our faces, and — apparently — dolphin hand-puppets on our arms.

Diving on the Big Island

As we geared up for dive one, a dusk dive at Keahole Point, my intense love for Kona Diving Company was cemented. First, they gave us goldfish and trail mix as well as access to a cooler full of Diet Coke. Then, in a  successful attempt to outdo any other dive outfit I’ve patronized over the years, they let Heather and me wear these completely amazing lobster and nudibranch dive hoods. Life = complete.

Diving on the Big Island

Diving on the Big IslandPhoto on right by Heather Holt

A dusk dive is a good way to ease into night diving — you actually enter the water before the sun goes down, so things get darker gradually throughout the dive. It’s much less traumatizing to jump into the water at sunset than it is in the pitch black of night.

Diving on the Big IslandPhoto by Heather Holt

Diving on the Big IslandPhoto by Heather Holt

In yet another touch I loved about Kona Diving Company, the captain offered to take each person’s photo once in the water. I thought that was especially nice for divers who didn’t have underwater cameras with them.

Diving on the Big Island

Of course, these two photo addicts did! As soon as we descended, my heart sank when I turned on my camera and got a half-battery warning. And then it sank right through to my gut when I realized I left my spare battery in my care like an idiot! Here I was on a once-in-a-lifetime dive trip, and I left my spare battery in the car. I tried not to cry through my mask, and in the meantime only took a few photos, preferring to preserve my remaining power for the second dive.

Diving on the Big IslandPhoto by Heather Holt

Diving on the Big Island

Diving on the Big Island

We crossed the coral reef, slowly and gradually getting deeper until we reached the sand. There, we found a garden of sand eels. These alien-like creatures are incredibly shy and retreat into the sand if you so much look at them. Swimming through them is an otherworldly experience, like having a force field five feet around you in every direction.

Diving on the Big Island

Normally I try to shoot as much as possible with natural light. Obviously, that’s not going to fly on a night dive. I’m so grateful that Heather has encouraged me to start working with my on-camera flash. It’s hit or miss, but I got some shots that I love.

Diving on the Big Island

Big Island Diving

Diving on the Big Island

At one point in the dive, I heard a high pitch squeal being emitted through Heather’s regulator. I followed her gaze to what can only be described as the most adorable baby eel that ever existed on the planet.

Diving on the Big IslandPhoto by Heather Holt

Diving on the Big Island

Just as we were about to reach the boat, our Divemaster banged his tank and pointed into the distance. Squinting, I caught a little preview of what was to come — the first manta ray I’d ever laid eyes on. It was the perfect way to end a bright and colorful dive.

Big Island DivingPhoto by Heather Holt

Back on the boat, Heather and I excitedly chatted as I looked through her photos. I love diving with another photographer — through their photos, I can see everything that I missed.

Big Island DivingPhoto by Heather Holt

Big Island DivingPhoto by Heather Holt

Big Island DivingPhoto on right by Heather Holt

Big Island DivingPhoto by Heather Holt

Big Island DivingPhoto by Heather Holt

Big Island DivingPhoto by Heather Holt

Big Island DivingPhoto by Heather Holt

Big Island DivingPhotos by Heather Holt

We waited patiently for the sky to grow darker and the nitrogen to safely leave our bodies so we could jump back into the water, and meet the mantas we’d traveled so far to see…

Big Island Diving

To be continued…

Note: Kona Diving Company in no way paid or perked me to write this review. In fact, they didn’t even know I was a blogger. If it feels like I’m gushing, that’s only because they were simply the best scuba operator I’ve ever had the pleasure of diving with!

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22 Comments...
  • Alexa Hart
    December 4 2012

    Fantastic photos once again! The dive company seems really great… Love that they took pics of everyone and gave you sea animal themed dive hoods to wear!
    Alexa Hart recently posted..EPISODE SLICE #28: Overcoming Challenges When Living Abroad

    • Alex
      December 4 2012

      I can’t say enough how fantastic Kona Diving Company was! More gushing about them coming up in the next post…

  • I didn’t want this post to end! Amazing, amazing shots. I need that lobster dive hood!!!!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..A Photographic Look At My Adventures In 2012 + Giveaway

    • Alex
      December 4 2012

      They also had a hammerhead shark! I would totally buy one, if I wasn’t hauling around too much dive gear to begin with…

  • OrpingtonT
    December 4 2012

    Really beautiful pictures. I love the sand eels. Superb.

    • Alex
      December 4 2012

      Thank you! I wish I had a video of how the sand eels move, it really is magical.

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad
    December 4 2012

    I was so excited to read the rest of this :(. But gorgeous shots and that sucks about your battery… I hate when that happens!
    Ashley of Ashley Abroad recently posted..My First Parisian Christmas Market

    • Alex
      December 4 2012

      I hate to leave you hanging but I just had way too many photos to share for just one post! 🙂 You won’t have to wait long though… Part II goes up tomorrow!

  • Margaret
    December 4 2012

    Sorry, I’m sure those photos are equisite but I just couldn’t get past the first one with Heather leaning over the side of the boat without the strap of her (I’m sure,very expensive!!!) camera around her neck! I GASPED!!! and couldn’t get past it…

    • Alex
      December 4 2012

      Ha, I didn’t even notice! She must have had a firm grip, I’m usually pretty nervous about my camera when hanging over the edges of things.

  • Gram
    December 4 2012

    A whole other world down there…Beautiful !!!
    Something I’d never see if it weren”t for you.
    Amazing that you’re getting to experience it
    in real life. You go, girl 🙂

    • Alex
      December 4 2012

      Thanks Gram! Happy to share what I see down there 🙂

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    December 4 2012

    Oh, this looks so magical! Now that we have started diving, the bucket list of all the places we want to dive and things we’d love to see is gradually growing… for Tony, manta rays are at the very top of his list, and it looks like this place would be absolute heaven! I have to admit, Hawaii has never really been on my list of places I wanted to visit (crazy, I know!), but I think this post has changed my mind.

    (On a somewhat related note, for new divers, what would you consider critical dive gear for purchase? We have only done 11 dives, but definitely plan on making this a lifetime pursuit… we’re thinking we should invest in dive computers, but if we’re always planning to do guided dives, is this something we need to rush out and do, or could we wait on it? What gear do you personally own?)
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Choosing the Right Travel Camera Part Three: What I Shoot

    • Alex
      December 4 2012

      Steph I totally relate… until I realized how many family and friends I had there, I never considered Hawaii much either!

      As for dive gear, I’ve totally been meaning to write a post on this. The absolute first thing to purchase is a mask you love. I’d also get a snorkel and fins. Not everyone wants to haul fins around, but I love the ability to snorkel for free from any beach! After that it gets subjective. For example I have a hard time finding BCDS small enough (I like a super tight fit) so that was more important to me than say, a regulator, which might be more important to someone who cares about germs. Ha.

      Mask aside, just take it slow! There’s no need to rush into any purchases, build your gear up as you find something you love. Good luck!

  • Lindsey
    December 5 2012

    Stunning photos by both of you 🙂 Happily adding diving with Manta Rays to my list of places to dive once I’m qualified! Now to just convince my boyfriend to come with me…

    The Kona Diving Company looks like an amazing company to dive with too. I hope you weren’t too apprehensive for your second dive. Can’t wait to read on.
    Lindsey recently posted..Choosing My Backpack

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      Thanks Lindsey! It’s definitely one for the life list. Good luck convincing the boyfriend to come 🙂

  • Dad
    December 7 2012

    I still think you take National Geographic quality underwater photos

    • Alex
      December 11 2012

      Thanks Dad 🙂 Well I always say it but I’ll say it again… National Geographic can contact me anytime!

  • alex
    December 14 2012

    Incredible! I love your dive stories and pictures! What camera do you use?

    You inspired me to dive Sail Rock this year and now I have another of your dive spots to add to my list 🙂 Thank you!
    alex recently posted..Health Oasis Wellness Spa 3 Day Detox Retreat

    • Alex
      December 16 2012

      I’m so glad you enjoyed Sail Rock! I shoot with the Canon s100 and the Canon underwater housing — you can find my full review here!

  • Lia
    January 21 2016

    I will be arriving in Kona in a couple months and have been looking into dive shops to book with- and can I just say thank you for pointing me in the right direction! I will definitely be giving them a visit and absolutely plan on doing this dive! HOW AMAZING!

    • Alex
      January 25 2016

      I hope you love it as much as I did, Lia! Wish I could go back and do it again TONIGHT!

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